Feeling thin or fat is an illusion constructed in the brain, according to a new study published in the journal Public Library of Science Biology. The collaborative study led by UCL (University College London) used a trick called the Pinocchio illusion to scan people’s brains while they experienced the sensation that their waists were shrinking. The study reveals which parts of the brain are involved in body image and may shed some light on anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder, where sufferers are overly concerned by a small or imagined defect in their body, and frequently overestimate or underestimate their actual body size.
The study, led by Dr Henrik Ehrsson of the UCL Institute of Neurology, used the Pinocchio illusion in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging to study volunteers’ brains. For each volunteer, a vibrating device was placed on their wrist to stimulate the tendon and create the sensation that the joint was flexing, even though it remained stationary. With their hand touching their waist, volunteers felt their wrists bending into their body, creating the illusion that their waists were shrinking.
During the tendon exercise, all 17 participants felt that their waist had shrunk by up to 28 per cent. The researchers found high levels of activity in the posterior parietal cortex, an area of the brain that integrates sensory information from different parts of the body. Volunteers who reported the strongest shrinking sensation also showed the strongest activity in this area of the brain.
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